US, Israel to sign record $52 billion military aid deal

WASHINGTON • The United States and Israel have agreed on a record US$38 billion (S$52 billion) package of US military aid and were due to sign the new pact yesterday, enshrining defence funding for Washington's closest Middle East ally for the next decade, officials said.

The deal will represent the biggest pledge of US military assistance made to any country, but also involves major concessions granted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to officials on both sides and US congressional aides. These include Israel's agreement not to seek additional funds from the US Congress beyond what will be guaranteed annually in the new package, and to phase out a special arrangement that has allowed Israel to spend part of its US aid on its own defence industry instead of on American-made weapons, the officials said.

Israel's chief negotiator, Mr Jacob Nagel, the acting head of Mr Netanyahu's national security council, arrived in Washington in preparation for the signing ceremony, and the White House also began briefing members of Congress on the deal.

Nearly 10 months of drawn-out aid negotiations have underscored continuing friction between US President Barack Obama and Mr Netanyahu over last year's US-led nuclear deal with Israel's arch foe Iran, an accord the Israeli leader opposed.

The US and Israel have also been at odds over the Palestinians.

But the right-wing Israeli Premier decided it would be best to forge a new arrangement with Mr Obama, who leaves office in January, rather than hoping for better terms from the next US administration, according to officials on both sides.

A deal now allows him to avoid uncertainties surrounding the next president, whether Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump, and to give Israel's defence establishment the ability to plan ahead.

Mr Obama's aides want a new deal before his presidency ends, seeing it as an important part of his legacy. Republican critics accuse him of not being attentive enough to Israel's security, which the White House strongly denies, and of taking too hard a line with the Israeli leader.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2016, with the headline 'US, Israel to sign record $52 billion military aid deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe